The founding of an “Islamic state” is the common underlying desire of millions of Muslims engaged in what is defined as “political Islam,” an aspiration that is widely craved by Islamic entities, whether they concur with one another, are at variance, function secretly or openly. However, conceptions vis-à-vis the form and function of an Islamic state differ from one Muslim to another. Meanwhile, political Islam is articulated so that Islam can serve to bring politicians to power while politics has nothing to offer to Islam.
The ban on democracy in many Arab states has prompted Islamists to capitalize on religion as a gateway to politics. There is certainly a correlation, either candid or implicit, between Islamic entities that believe in realizing power by democratic means and those that seek to achieve change through violence. In fact, during the emergence of democracy in any given Muslim nation, all conflicting Islamist entities unite politically (similar to what occurred in Egypt after the 2011 revolution).
The absence of equality, freedom and justice, among many other Western values in most Arab Muslim nations, is behind the emergence and expansion of political Islamists – who ironically won’t abide by democratic tools should they come into power. In fact, Islamic entities derive their strength mainly from functioning as illegal underground bodies that use totalitarian methods to discipline their large numbers of followers under the pretense of applying what they claim are “Islamic principles.”
Terrorists in essence are ignorant, narrow-minded people who are collective victims of their violence-driven leaders, intensified by the autocratic cruelty of their ruling regimes. In Islam, committing suicide is a sin that clearly leads to hell; the use of suicide bombers to assassinate innocent people is obviously unrelated to Islam. Nevertheless, otherwise well-informed Westerners, prone to think in terms of cause and effect, often claim that Islam is the spiritual source of terrorism, declining to acknowledge that terrorism is simply a sociopolitical dilemma initiated by criminal citizens who know little about the religion of Islam.
Terrorism, in fact, is a symptom of the present political era wherein two vastly unequal political forces encounter one another: a relatively small group of people who abide by a strong ideology is confronting the comprehensive armed force and political power of a nation. In reality, terrorism gains its strength by capitalizing on the increasing ignorance, poverty and misery of millions of suffering Muslims.
Three Muslim Arab monarchies, Kuwait, Jordan and Morocco, have managed to use their monarchical system of rule to enable Islamists to engage in what might be defined as a restricted form of political participation that allows them to compete fairly in legislative elections and participate in the forming of government – as long as they don’t question the monarchy. While this is an excellent political proposition for these nations, it is difficult to apply in nations with republican rule such as Algeria and Egypt, where the slightest hint of democracy will naturally lead to cravings for the presidency.
In my country, Egypt, state entities, along with a segment of our society, were able to do away with Muslim Brotherhood rule on June 30, 2013, only 365 days after it had come to power. Regardless of the method (revolution or military coup), a legitimate ruling entity that had been waiting to seize power since 1928 was ousted and immediately faced intensive terrorism allegations. Although political Islamists have been engaged in countless violent activities throughout their long, illegal lifespan, realizing power democratically, and eventually losing it, has aggravated the pro-violence arm of their organizations substantially.
Furthermore, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who assumed power after toppling Islamist rule, anticipated that the Western world, scared to death of Islamic terrorism, would support him politically and morally, backed up with endless financial grants from Arab Gulf states worried about the spillover of political Islam into their nations. Sisi was shocked by the implicit Western criticisms of his move, and although the Gulf states have offered Egypt roughly US$92 billion in grants and loans since January 2011, this is still much less than he had expected.
Meanwhile, Western nations have capitalized on this political crisis by hosting many Islamist leaders, allowing them to operate politically as long as they respect the host nations’ sovereignty and security. While this move may offer Western nations temporary immunity from terrorism, it is not a permanent cure for the universal disease of terrorism, which is driven by diversified and fragmented entities operating independently.
Sisi eventually came up with an odd scheme; a couple of mega-projects would instantly boost the Egyptian economy, thereby advancing his popularity at the expense of political Islamists. During his tenure, Sisi has vastly restricted the small window of freedom that Hosni Mubarak used to offer us, expanded unjust rule, deteriorated the country’s economy, and vastly reduced all forms of political participation – all of which has simply strengthened political Islamists who often capitalize on rulers’ faults instead of offering genuine scientific solutions.
Autocracy, naturally, leaves rulers blindsided, believing that their projects are massively successful, that the economy is booming and their popularity is rising. In fact, Egypt is sweeping its accumulated economic and political wreckage under the rug; the number of people living beneath the poverty threshold has increased to nearly one of every three citizens and our external debt has almost tripled during Sisi’s tenure, reaching $106 billion according to Central Bank of Egypt statistics. Nevertheless, the state falsely believes that security measures will immunize our country against political Islamists forever.
It is widely acknowledged that a copycat of the January 2011 revolution is an almost impossible task, but because of our extensive socioeconomic and political crisis, we are currently a volatile society that could explode any time. Meanwhile, the true assessment of terrorists’ current capabilities lies in measuring their ability to recruit more terrorists and to obtain some sympathy from their Muslim fellows – two escalating factors that present political developments are fortifying further.
Should Sisi run any form of free and fair elections, political Islamists would have a good chance of returning to power, and their single goal would be to get even with state entities, leading to widespread violence in Egypt. The holding of genuine elections is therefore an inconceivable political proposition. However, activating a “semi-functional” democratic mechanism whereby the Egyptian state works to engage the millions of energetic youth who are eager to reform our country is an effective approach that would also prevent young people from turning to political Islam – but since Sisi believes that politics is meant to serve his desires exclusively, he will certainly despise this proposal.
The present reactive approach of Western nations toward terrorism leaves everyone universally vulnerable to potential terrorist attacks. Terrorism is a phenomenon that is best countered by its creators: Political Islamists, many of whose leaders are living in Europe. Establishing a dialogue among Western leaders, scholars and Islamists currently residing in the West would be a constructive pre-emptive move that might engage political Islam in universal democracy (if such a term exists); that is a single step Western nations could take that may help the world to live in peace.